PANOLA — Though its upcoming school year remains uncertain, Panola Public Schools hasn’t given up.
A deadline given by the state Education Department to raise $256,000 has passed, and the small rural school district in southeastern Oklahoma had fallen $150,000 short as of Tuesday, the school’s superintendent said. But the community keeps raising money, and the department said it will work with the school district to get its finances on track.
“We are continuing to fight the fight to make Panola School viable while maintaining our commitment to excellence in education,” said Superintendent Brad Corcoran. “Panola School is not shutting down its efforts because June 30 has come and gone.”
In a letter dated June 19, the department asks the school for additional details about its financial situation so the information can be presented to the State Board of Education at its July 24 meeting.
The school district sought to meet its obligations by the end of the fiscal year, which was June 30, or face annexation. A grant for the school nurse saved $22,000 and donations from private individuals and fundraisers totaled $38,800.
An audit on June 17 discovered $252,000 that was left out of the school’s estimated needs and about $178,000 of it could be appropriated. That allowed the school to make June and July payroll, Corcoran said. But the district is still coming up short.
The financial uncertainty in Panola has led to a teacher shortage, said Corcoran, who took over as superintendent May 12, amid the money crisis.
“We’ve lost a few teachers,” he said. “We’ll be looking to fill some positions.”
Two elementary positions will likely be filled with teachers that were laid off at the end of the school year, but there are now three or four vacancies at the high school, he said.
In May, the school’s dire financial situation came to light. State Education Department spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said the school’s former superintendent failed to cut expenses while revenue decreased. The district received $564,876 for 2014 and will receive less next year because of a shrinking student membership, she said.
On May 8, the department’s finance division sent a staff member to assess the situation in Panola, and they noted several areas of concern. Those included making purchase orders after items were received, not properly documenting revenue receipts, being unable to make payroll, not having enough cash to cover operating costs and taking a bank loan without having the ability to pay it back on time.
Panola is currently the only district in Oklahoma facing annexation. In 2011, the Education Department shut down Boynton-Moton Public Schools because of abysmal test scores and financial misspending.